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Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2017

Volume 782: debated on Monday 24 April 2017

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2017 was laid in Parliament on 20 April. I am very grateful to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for its very valuable advice. The council’s recommendations have prompted the order before you today.

This order relates to three groups of substances. The first is the synthetic opiate known as U-47700; the second consists of 12 methylphenidate-related new psychoactive substances; and the third is etizolam and 15 additional designer benzodiazepines. The effect of this order is to insert these 29 drugs into Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act. This will make it an offence to possess, produce, import, export, supply, or offer to supply these drugs without a Home Office licence.

U-47700 is a synthetic opiate which was originally developed as a research chemical but has found no legitimate use. It is reportedly 7.5 times more potent than morphine. The order will insert U-47700 into Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Act as a class A drug, due to its high addiction potential.

On methylphenidate-related new psychoactive substances, the injecting of ethylphenidate, an amphetamine-type stimulant, was considered a public health issue in Edinburgh in 2015. Following ACMD advice, ethylphenidate and six similar substances were placed under a temporary class drug order. This temporary class drug order was relaid in 2016 for a further year, and the ACMD has now advised that these substances, plus an additional five related substances, be controlled under the Act. The order will insert these methylphenidate-related NPS into Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the Act as class B substances.

On etizolam and designer benzodiazepines—saying these things correctly is always a test for a Minister at the Dispatch Box—the abuse of benzodiazepines has been well known, and as such, many of these are controlled under the Act. The ACMD had become aware of increasing reports of the harms caused by designer benzodiazepines—those which are not licensed medicines in the UK but imported specifically for their psychoactive effects. Of particular concern was etizolam, which is related to a number of deaths in Scotland. The order will insert etizolam and the further 15 designer benzodiazepines into Part 3 of Schedule 2 to the Act as class C substances.

Etizolam has been identified by some countries, including Italy, as having some therapeutic benefits, so the Government have asked the ACMD to keep its scheduling under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 under close review. There are no legitimate or recognised uses of any of the other substances before your Lordships today beyond potential research. For these reasons, my honourable friend the Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism accepted the advisory council’s advice that these substances should be subject to the order before you today. It is intended that two further related statutory instruments will be made to come into force at the same time as the order to add these substances to the appropriate schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 and to the Misuse of Drugs (Designation) Order 2001.

This order, if made, will provide enforcement agencies with the requisite powers to restrict the supply and use of these harmful substances in this country. It will also provide a clear message to the public that the Government consider these substances to be a danger to society. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am supportive of the order before us this afternoon. I will not be attempting to pronounce any of the names in it. I have carefully read the order and the Explanatory Memorandum and am content to agree it. The Explanatory Memorandum is very helpful, particularly section 7, which sets out the policy background.

It is worth noting that the drugs are being permanently listed as controlled substances in each of the classifications today—namely, class A, class B and class C—on the advice of the independent experts who make up the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. This is being done following a review they carried out, and they are the experts in these matters. It is also worth noting—again, this is in section 7—that in each of these classifications these drugs have led to the loss of life. I suspect that those affected are more likely to be younger people, and of course that is devastating for their families. Losing anyone at any age is terrible, but in circumstances where that could have been avoided it is all the more heartbreaking.

In conclusion, I am content to approve the order and, with the other measures that are in force with the police, the NHS and the community drug projects, I hope that it will go some way towards ensuring that the people responsible for bringing these substances on to the street are caught and punished, and that their operations are shut down. Then the people taking these substances can get the help they need to get off them and deal with the problems they have in their lives. I am very happy to support the order.

My Lords, I have to declare an interest in that my son suffered from benzodiazepines for several years and has only recently, mercifully, recovered from them. Therefore, I have been very well aware of this word.

I am delighted to hear the Minister say that the department is much more aware of the harmful effects of these legally prescribed drugs. However, is she also aware that a proposal has been put forward to the department on providing the minimum help of a helpline for people who are afflicted? This has been put on the table and, if she is not aware of it, she might be able to write to me about it.

I am most grateful to the noble Earl and the noble Lord for their very constructive comments, and I am very glad to hear that the noble Earl’s son is now in recovery. On his point about a helpline, a number of tools are certainly available to people through websites. I am trying to think of the name of the website—

That is it. FRANK is an aid to guide people—particularly young people—away from drugs and the consequences of their use. Helplines are available. I do not know the answer regarding the one to which the noble Earl referred but I can get him some information.

On that note, I thank noble Lords for their comments.

Motion agreed.